The chemical science of pornography addiction

by Robert Ellis, M. Ed., LPC Greenhouse Counseling Center

What is the lure of pornography, and why is it so compelling to some men?

Spiritually speaking, pornography lures the sin nature (flesh) into doing what it does best-pervert a normally pleasurable and pure instinct (sex) into a lust-filled, sin-laden, chemically driven compulsion. Pornography gives the sin nature a chance to really “flex its muscles.”

Most people can comprehend a drug addiction when an outside agent like alcohol or cocaine enters the body and distorts the person’s behavior and metabolism. But when addiction is caused by internal thoughts or actions, as in pornography, the addiction is harder to comprehend. This can be explained.

Our bodies are constantly preparing themselves with internal hormones and other body chemicals. For example, our stomach secretes gastric juices in anticipation of a meal, our muscles are fed adrenalin in anticipation of athletic competition or a speech we must give.

Internal “chemicals” are even responsible for the giddy feelings we get when anticipating a warm visit from family or friends. These warm feelings might last for days, or even weeks, surrounding the Christmas holidays or a much anticipated vacation. And, if you’re careful to notice, the end of these anticipated events can result in a “hangover” or period of slight depression, which is actually the “coming down” from a naturally induced “high.” In the same way, pornography stimulates the body to release powerful stimulants, hormones, neurotransmitters (nerve message senders), and other natural chemicals into the bloodstream.

Use of pornography creates an exotic combination of internal stimulants which cascade through the bloodstream like liquid flesh. They create a sense of relief, excitement, exhilaration or pleasure, and convey feelings of maleness, wholeness, power, thrill, triumph, omniscience, etc. When these pleasurable, relieving surges get grooved into associations with pornography, the flesh gains control over the spirit and the problem becomes one of addiction. It is not uncommon for pornography to elicit internal surges as addictive as cocaine.

To the addict, the mere thought of using pornography stimulates an internal rush of exhilarating, must-do feelings. Christ was way ahead of His time as an addictions counselor when He warned us that anyone who conceives sin in his mind is already in danger. By merely thinking about it, the body begins gearing up for the event with compelling, chemically-driven urges.

Although women can get addicted to sex and pornography, there is evidence to suggest that males have a greater physical component to the sex drive, which results in more compulsive response to the muscle-nerve stimulants. And, physiologically, males have greater skeletal muscle (flesh) to respond to adrenalin-like surges.

The addictive personality is a quick learner to the stimulus-response patterns (pornography associated with feelings of pleasure), and is usually psychologically vulnerable to the need for relief or wholeness, so the addiction is sudden and powerful.

How does a person defeat the pornography addiction?

To the Christian, addiction can be seen in the concept of the flesh gaining control over the spirit, and victory consists of the spirit regaining control over the flesh.

Victory over pornography addiction requires a double-edged sword, one edge for the mind, the other edge for the physical body. The mind must be renewed and the body must be weaned off the grooved, habituated chemical surges associated with pornography. Specialized professional counseling, perhaps in an in-patient setting, is often required.

To address the mental component, understanding and following Biblical directives are crucial. The Bible is filled with scriptural remedies having to do with the mind. Principles like Christ lays down in Matthew 5:27-28; David in Psalms 101:3; the stern advice Paul gives in Romans 6:19; 12:2; 13:14, and Colossians 3:2; and James in James 1:15 are examples of renewing, spirit-feeding principles.

Physically, addiction is similar to muscle building. The more a person “works out” with weights and nourishment supplements, the more his muscles grow. If he stops the workouts and supplements, his muscles atrophy, or return to normal. The addict, by not working out his chemical responses and eliminating his nourishment sources, will also see his physical responses atrophy. But, like nicotine addiction, once the body has tasted the drug, it never forgets.

If he is successful in reducing his habituated responses, the growl and whip of his addiction will be reduced to a pleading whimper. And with a strengthened mind, renewed with scriptural memorization and Bible study, the spirit can be counted on to regain control over the flesh.

The Bible lesson in addiction is the power of the sin nature to assert itself and gain dominion over the spirit when given the opportunity by poor decision making. Only by maintaining a constant vigil, renewing the mind through Christ and weakening the flesh by avoiding the thoughts and actions of sin, can the spirit rule the flesh.

Robert Ellis is a therapist at Greenhouse Counseling Center in Grand Rapids, Michigan, under the auspices of Fifth Reformed Church. He specializes in addictive issues.

He has authored the book Sifting Men – A Woman’s Guide to Assessing Male Character and is a Licensed Professional Counselor.

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